Separation Anxiety

Why are some dogs perfectly relaxed and secure when left alone and others have almost a pathological fear and sometimes act out violently and destructively? As of now, all the research points to the bonding process between the owners and their canine best friends. Dogs have been so heavily selected to form strong attachments to humans that they all have the the potential to develop separation problems. If not handled correctly, this separation anxiety can result in obsessive barking, eliminating in the home, and destructive behavior. Not to mention, it can also be very unhealthy – in fact, that state of mind has been linked to all sorts of medical concerns. Fortunately, there are things we can do to help our canine companions adjust.

Whether we bring in a young puppy or a mature rescue we have an opportunity within those first couple of months to teach these dogs that’s it’s okay to be alone. But, if you’ve missed this window, there are two main approaches to helping your dog with his or her’s anxiety.
There are two main approaches to helping your dog with his or her’s anxiety. Probably the most common and effective method is crate training. This is not buy a crate, throw the dog in, and hope for the best – it’s crate training. The goal is to teach your pet that being in their crate is a 100% positive experience and one that actually creates a feeling of safety and security. The crate has to be viewed as a sanctuary by the dog. It is so critical that nothing negative be associated with this training that it’s generally wise to enlist the services of an experienced dog trainer. But let me offer a couple of tips. The whole point of the crate is to limit sensory input. Dogs have such a severely under developed neo-cortex that they simply don’t have the capacity to recall an event from the past or to consider a future event. Just like 99.999% of all the animals on the planet, dogs live right here right now all of the time. Consequently they’re constantly processing information, every scent, shadow, sound has to be addressed. By limiting or even eliminating sensory input, the dog can only go to sleep. It’s the most humane way to leave a dog alone for long periods of time, like 1+ hours. So we want to put the crate in a cool, quiet, dark place if possible. Covering the crate completely and leaving on some white noise, such as static on the radio will do the trick. Also it’s important that your pet enter the crate on his or her own rather than being put in. We can achieve this by tossing treats in and letting the dog get them, once they’re inside get on your belly blocking them in and give a lot of affection, words of encouragement, etc. We want your pet to get used to the idea that awesome things happen inside their sanctuary.

Another effective method is teaching your dog that being alone is not a disaster by gradually increasing the amount of time he/she’s alone. Of course this takes a little longer and you need to be patient. Pushing too hard or becoming frustrated or angry will accomplish the exact opposite of what you want. At first, depending on the severity of the separation anxiety you’ll start by going outside the front door for a matter of seconds and coming right back in before the anxiety even starts and giving a very calm reward designed to relax your dog. Then head out for a few more seconds, then a minute etc. If the dog does start barking it’s very important to try and wait till they stop before re-entering. We absolutely do not want to reward the barking. This training should take place several times a day for usually about a week. Be patient, be calm and don’t force the issue. You’ll not only be helping your best friend get over a horrible state of mind, but, like with most training, you’ll be strengthening that bond and increasing mutual respect and trust.